The napkin which famously launched Lionel Messi’s Barcelona career as a 13-year-old will be auctioned off in March with a starting price of £300,000 ($382,150).
With Messi’s father, Jorge, beginning to doubt Barça’s commitment to his son in 2000, the club’s director of football at the time, Carles Rexach, hastily scrambled together an agreement on a napkin.
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It was signed by Rexach, Josep Minguella, an advisor who had helped bring Messi over from South America, and Horacio Gaggioli, the Argentine agent who helped broker the deal, and served as a promise for a first contract.
Since then, it has remained under the ownership of Gaggioli, secured in a vault in Andorra, the Principality to the north of Barcelona sandwiched between Spain and France.
Negotiations for it to be incorporated into Barça’s museum at the club’s Spotify Camp Nou stadium broke down in the past and it will now be made available to private bidders by British auction house Bonhams.
“This is one of the most thrilling items I have ever handled,” Ian Ehling, the Head of Fine Books and Manuscripts at Bonhams New York, said.
“Yes, it’s a paper napkin, but it’s the famous napkin that was at the inception of Messi’s career. It changed the life of Messi, the future of Barça and was instrumental in giving some of the most glorious moments of football to billions of fans around the globe.”
The napkin was originally signed on Dec. 14, 2000 at a tennis club in Barcelona after Rexach had received a frantic call from Jorge Messi threatening to take his son back to Argentina.
“That was when, thinking on my feet, I decided everything,” Rexach told ESPN in 2020 to mark the 20th anniversary of the signing.
“Why a napkin? Because it was the only thing I had available to hand. I saw the only way to relax Jorge was signing something, giving him some proof, so I asked for a napkin from the waiter.
“I wrote: ‘In Barcelona, on 14 December 2000 and in the presence of Messrs Minguella and Horacio, Carles Rexach, FC Barcelona’s sporting director, hereby agrees, under his responsibility and regardless of any dissenting opinions, to sign the player Lionel Messi, provided that we keep to the amounts agreed upon.’
“I told Jorge that my signature was there and that there were witnesses, that with my name I would take direct responsibility, there was nothing else to talk about and to be patient for a few days because Leo could already consider himself a Barca player.”
Messi went on to become Barça’s greatest ever player, making more appearances (778) and scoring more goals (672) than anyone else who has played for the club.
During over 20 years in Barcelona, he won 10 LaLiga titles, seven Copas del Rey and four Champions League trophies while playing for the club before joining Paris Saint-Germain and, later, Inter Miami, where he now plays.
Individually, he has won the Ballon d’Or on eight occasions, the award which recognises the best men’s player in the world, and has also been named The Best FIFA Men’s Player on three occasions.
International success had eluded him until recently, but he finally won the Copa America in 2021 and the World Cup in 2022 to go with the Olympic Gold Medal he won in 2008.